Thursday, October 11, 2007

On Talk Radio: One Curmudgeon's Take

Since September 11, 2001, I have been listening to a fair amount of talk radio. That means that when I drive, I often listen to Denis Prager, Michael Savage, Michael Medved, Hugh Hewitt, Laura Ingraham, Shawn Hannity, Michael Regan, Mark Levin, or others. I do not take the time to listen at home. There are too many papers to grade, books to read, articles to write, etc. This offering is not a comprehensive critique of the form, but a few observations.

1. Some, like Savage and Levin, are incessant and intemperate name-callers. This includes ridiculing people's looks. Savage referred to Ann Coulter as a "transvestite-looking hag" today amidst his rant against her comments that everyone should convert to Christianity. Coulter is not one of my favorite commentators, and I've criticized her lack of modesty on this blog; but ridiculing her as Savage did is simply mean-spirited and pointless. It spreads needless poison through the air. Proverbs repeatedly warns of the dangers of misplaced anger.

2. Prager and Medved seem to be the most fair-minded, knowledgeable, and reasonable most of the time. They rely less on histrionics and more on facts and logic. They are typically fair to those who disagree with them. Nor do they absolutely demonize those whom they disagree with.

3. Even though it is "talk" radio, it is always punctuated by frequent and long commercial breaks, thus not allowing a good head of intellectual steam to get built up. This medium is no substitute for the classroom, the personal discussion, or the reading of books and articles. Talk show hosts have a tendency to be glib and flippant. Hewitt is often annoying on this front, despite his knowledge of politics and law. Although an evangelical, Hewitt seldom seems to integrate a biblical worldview overtly into his program. In fact, none of the talk show hosts engage on this level, despite their forays into religion. Denis Miller is the most glib and talks with a perpetual sneer in this voice. I seldom listen to him for this reason.

4. Talk radio provides a window into perspectives typically ignored by the mainstream media. Savage, despite his frequent bombast and narcissism, often gives angles on issues not found elsewhere. Medved has a good grasp of history, and brings this to bear on issues. He sometimes presents programs made up entirely of his narration of historical events.

5. Ingraham and Reagan strike me as the least insightful of the lot. Ingram relies on special effects--sound slices--that are bothersome. Reagan is not very articulate, to my mind. But I have appreciated his featuring of David Horowitz many times on his program. The latter is on a crusade to bring a more balanced view of politics and culture to the university. See his new book, Indoctrination on this.

6. Callers to these programs can be obsequious and embarrassing in many ways. Many are painfully inarticulate. So few people today seem to work at speaking well. They litter their speech with stutter words--such as like, I mean, ya know, awesome, I have to tell ya, etc., ad nauseum--and have small vocabularies. Hosts often just cut off callers in mid-sentence, especially Savage and Levin. There is little give and take, typically. Rational dialogue is rare in our culture. There was much more of it in The Book of Acts.


evagrius said...

Why pollute your mind and spirit with "talk radio"?

Most of it is pure emotional garbage, the equivalent of bad rock/pop music.

When I'm driving, I listen to jazz or classical. Much better for the soul.

Give me a little Monk or Bach over "talk radio" anyday.

David Strunk said...

I might be wrong on this, but I think she spells it Laura Ingraham. I saw it recently and was befuddled at the spelling enough as to remember it.

Jim Pemberton said...

I get Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity at work. We have Black Mountain (WMIT - Billy Graham's radio station) here in NC, but it's hard to pick up in my office.

Some of it is entertaining, some is thought provoking. However, it does get old if I listen to it all the time. I'm a gospel (all genres), jazz and romantic period man when that happens.

The Daily Fuel said...

Greetings, Dr. Groothuis.

You refer to talk radio as a source of perspective ignored by the mainstream media. While I never quite understand what anti-progressives mean by mainstream, what you seem to fail to grasp is that conservatives are the mainstream on the radio, as well as TV. (Truly mainstream media is about vanished six-year olds, runaway brides, murdered girlfriends, etc.)

Cable TV (which you would not watch) is full of token, fake liberals, such as Chris Matthews, Tim Russert, Alan Colmes, just to mention a few, who are outranked by the likes of Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto, Larry King, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, John Gibson, and Chris Wallace, who feign equidistance for a living, while they have a demonstrably Republican bias. The only progressive who truly deserves the title of progressive is Keith Olbermann (and Bill Moyers, David Brancaccio and Amy Goodman, but they are all on public television or radio.) I hardly ever watch network news, but I am repulsed by the likes of Katie Couric and their sugar-coated venom.

Notably, none of the personalities I mentioned above are worthy of the title "journalist", with the possible exception of Tim Russert, who is very good at concealing is true colors.

As far as radio goes, the list you produced is mainstream (and you have omitted Rush Limbaugh, who is probably the most popular of them all.) It is really hard to find a different perspective on the radio (progressive or liberal, as you may like to call it.)

I have driven up and down Utah and Colorado a few times and I guarantee you that listening to talk radio, for a progressive like me, is an exercise in futility and self-flagellation. And, often enough, in fact too often, I listen to the unbearably smug and dishonest "Gunny" Bob Newman (who, for example, maintains that water-boarding does not constitute torture but a trick of the mind, and that liberals want to lose in Iraq or that they want the United States to be attacked again), or to the dangerously deceitful Jon Caldara, on KOA.

Intelligent discourse is virtually absent on talk radio, and that is a sad fact. The format is not meant to inform, but to entertain, and enrage. Most conservative radio hosts (and I am using the adjective with great latitude) are scornful, contemptous, biased, and ill-informed/informing to a fault. Not to mention the fact that many seem genuinely xenophobic and homophobic, and that they wrap their ideas in a blanket of venom. Their callers are, generally speaking, equally annoying and dutifilly deceived.

I could go on and on ranting about the illusion of the supposed liberal bias of the media, but I will sum my feelings up with the words I saw on a bumper sticker a while ago: "the media are as liberal as the conservative corporations who own them" (which, by the way, have a vested interest in keeping the people ignorant and indifferent to what really goes on.) Never truer words have been spoken about the media, which is an endless and growing source of disappointment for anyone who is interested in the future of the masses around the world.


Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


I put no great hope in any aspect of popular media to renew the culture or save the soul. That takes more reality than it can hold.

The Daily Fuel said...

Read, read, read. I am finding reading to be a more and more rewarding activity as I grow older. The depth one finds in a book (sorry, for me it is not THE book) can not be easily reproduced. However, I believe that films can--if correctly conceived and enacted--be a quite intriguing source of thought.

Jeff S. said...

I have given up on talk radio. I get easily annoyed with all the commercial breaks, even when they are right in the middle of a good exchange. Also, I found myself exiting my car angrier than when entering. Most of the programs I would listen to were more about rallying the troups than any honest, intellectual debate. I find reading editorials to be a better source of information.